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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Shakespeare's Anti-Semitism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 100.  Tuesday, 23 February 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Herbert S. Donow <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Feb 93 17:00:20 CST
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Anti-Semitism
 
(2)     From:   Robert O'Connor <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Feb 1993 11:46:13 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0099  *MV*: Usury and Anti-Semitism
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Herbert S. Donow <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Feb 93 17:00:20 CST
Subject:        Shakespeare's Anti-Semitism
 
The following are three paragraphs from a longer paper, and my remarks
about Tubal need, probably, to be in the fuller context, but the issue of
Shakespeare's anti-Semitism really should be seen in the appropriate
Elizabethan context.
 
I have always believed the issue of anti-Semitism to be something of a
red herring.  During the period of Shakespeare's life, there were a number
of portrayals, both on the stage and page, of greedy moneylenders.
Although there were plays or other works in addition to Marlowe's and
Shakespeare's with Jewish characters, there were plenty whose usurers were
clearly not Jews: Robert Greene's Old Gorinius in A Groatsworth of Wit,
Massinger's Sir Giles Overreach in A New Way to Pay Old Debts, Middleton's
Pecunius Lucre in A Trick to Catch the Old One are but a few of the better
known characters of this ilk.  Shylock's behavior, like the rest of them,
is attributable essentially to his materialistic and exploitative occupa-
tion rather than to his religion.   His Jewishness was more of an atten-
tion-getter, playing on a popular theme of the day, than a significant
issue in the play.  Thomas Nashe, in Christs Teares Over Jerusalem, makes
essentially this point when he writes, "Let us leave of the Proverbe
which we use to a cruell dealer, saying, Goe thy waies, thou art a Jewe;
and say, Goe thy waies, thou art a Londoner. For then Londoners, are none
more hard harted and cruell" (II, p. 159).  Furthermore, there is an
important moment in the play--at the conclusion of Act III, scene i, when
Shylock is alone with Tubal, a fellow Jew and moneylender--in which the
issue of anti-Semitism may arguably be laid to rest.
 
If Shakespeare's audience saw Shylock as a figure to be condemned, at
least in part, because he is a Jew, we must recognize that there are two
other Jews in the play--his daughter and Tubal.  We tend to dismiss Jessica
as a Jew because she appears to repudiate her religion by marrying Lorenzo,
but that may not exactly be the case.  Remember she says "Though I am a
daughter to his blood,/ I am not to his manners."  One reading of those
lines would suggest that she is acknowledging her Jewish blood but repudi-
ating her father's behavior and mean-spiritedness.  However, it is the
other Jew in the play, Tubal, that may provide us with a normative image of
the Jew, one which is not linked to the traditional biases of medieval and
renaissance thought.
 
Tubal is Shakespeare's instrument to ensure that Shylock's twisted
character, his greed and unpalatable economic theory, are not linked to the
issue of his Jewishness.  In this brief passage of fifty lines (III.i.72-
120), Tubal emerges as a character of some depth, capable of amusing
himself at Shylock's expense while still acting as a friend.  Solanio and
Salerio, earlier in the scene, maliciously remind Shylock of his fugitive
daughter, a refrain that Tubal echoes, only in a more benevolent style and
tone.  Tubal--and perhaps the others of his community--does not share Shy-
lock's single-minded hatred of the Christian nor his obsession with revenge
against Antonio.  (In this, Tubal may have a moral ancestor in the charac-
ter of Gerontus, a Jewish moneylender in Robert Wilson's interlude, The
Three Ladies of London.  When Mercator sought to evade his debt to Gerontus
by forsaking Christianity, the appalled Gerontus forgoes collection so that
the unprincipled Mercator's act of apostasy will not be on his conscience.)
Shylock's misanthropy is a consequence of individual experience, and
despite Shylock's darker nature, he is, nevertheless, a comic figure.  It
is this scene which separates Tubal (and the Jewish community) from
Shylock's sociopathic behavior and which emphatically displays Shylock's
comic side.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert O'Connor <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Feb 1993 11:46:13 +1000
Subject: 4.0099  *MV*: Usury and Anti-Semitism
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0099  *MV*: Usury and Anti-Semitism
 
Tom Loughlin has, I think, bought up a good point about Shakespearean
anti-Semitism by referring us to The "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech -- I am
surprised it hasn't come up before now.
 
I also have to agree with the points that have been made about usury -- I
have always felt in my own reading of the play that Shylock's religious
grudge against Antonio is entirely secondary to his finacial ones. In the
productions I have seen it is often Shylock's bewailing of his lost ring
and jewels and ducats that elicits the laughter from the audience.  But
would it not be true to say that even this is derived from a stereotypical
view of Jews at the time? one that had little or nothing to do with
religion, perhaps, and more to do with their putative 'control' of finance.
 
ROC
 

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